Blogger Beware: The “Johnny Northside” case

May 29, 2012

The Minnesota Court of Appeals is hearing an interesting case involving blogging and free speech. Blogger John (“Johnny Northside”) Hoff wrote a post on his locally popular blog that resulted in Jerry Moore being fired from his job. See the Star Tribune Article , 2012 WLNR 11034738.


According to the Star Tribune story, Jerry Moore had been involved in a local community council and later was hired by the University of Minnesota to study mortgage foreclosures.  Hoff alleged on his website that Moore had been involved in mortgage fraud, and questioned why the University would hire him. A commenter (previously another defendant who later settled) called for Moore’s termination. The story states that Moore was fired by the University soon after the post appeared.
 
Moore sued Hoff in 2009 for defamation, intentional interference with employment contract, and interference with prospective advantage. His amended complaint can be found on Westlaw at 2009 WL 8181963
 
At trial, the jury found that while the post was truthful, Hoff  interfered with Moore’s employment contract and awarded Moore $35,000 for loss of benefits of his employment contract and $25,000 for emotional distress or harm to reputation. A jury verdict summary can be found at: 2011 WL 3622928

Hoff appealed and oral arguments occurred on May 23rd. Hoff argues that his blog post is protected by the 1st Amendment, but the question is whether speech encouraging termination of an individual’s employment goes beyond the protections of the 1st Amendment. The Court of Appeals docket can be found on Westlaw Classic or WestlawNext, with the docket number: A111923

 

 

RESEARCH REFERENCES

 

Case Law Search: While this story is centered around free speech and defamation issues, the better strategy for researching similar cases might be to begin by searching the tort of wrongful interference with an employment relationship.   The relevant KeyNumber is 231HIX.  Try,

Query: 231HIX /p libel slander defam!

Results: 88 (all case law jurisdictions)

 

Or, simply combine the two relevant KeyNumbers into a single search.  Topic 237 is Libel and Slander:

 

Query: to(231HIX) and to(237)

Results: 434 (all case law jurisdictions)

Locateto(231hix) (237) /p truth!

Results: 119 of 434

 

34 Causes of Action 2d 1 provides elements for wrongful interference with an employment relationship:
(1) the existence and terms of an employment relationship;
(2) the defendant’s knowledge of the employment relationship;
(3) the defendant’s status as a “third party” to the relationship;
(4) the defendant’s conduct interfering with the plaintiff’s employment, which conduct was improper in motive or means;
(5) the defendant’s intent to interfere ; and
(6) a proximate causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s termination from employment; and
(7) damages resulting from the interference.